Meet our passionate and dynamic team of professionals!
Ms. Schiff had a long and successful career in the mortgage industry as an executive and company owner. After her son was diagnosed at age 5 with high-functioning autism, she dedicated her life to improving his. In the process she developed a passion for improving the lives of all children and families. Ms. Schiff founded Connect Us in 2009, inspired by her own children as well as countless others she brought together through the volunteer recess program, “Peaceful Playgrounds.” She spent three years as the program’s volunteer coordinator and two years as the parent chair for the Bully Prevention and Safety Committee at Cottonwood Creek Elementary in Englewood, Colo. Ms. Schiff is a certified graduate of the Family Leadership Training Institute, where she developed leadership, civic engagement, and family and child advocacy skills. As an active volunteer, she educates and coaches parents in becoming effective advocates for their children. She is a board member for the Cherry Creek School District’s Community Asset Project and has been involved in its Partnership for Academically Successful Students. In collaboration with Annette Nunez, PhD, Ms. Schiff continues to develop programs that promote inclusion, teach bullying prevention and increase the self-esteem of young children.
Annette Nunez, PhD, LMFT, CPT - Program Director
Dr. Nunez is a licensed psychotherapist and certified play therapist who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and a doctorate in quantitative research methods with a focus on child development. At the University of California – Los Angeles, she studied and trained with renown autism expert, Ivar Lovaas, PhD. She also received training from Pamela Wolfberg, PhD, acclaimed author and the originator of the Integrated Play Groups model. As a behavioral therapist, Dr. Nunez has worked with children for 17 years. She is the founder and director of Breakthrough Interventions, LLC, which offers individual therapy, school consultations and academic and life-skill coaching for children with autism and/or other social, emotional, learning, or behavior challenges. As part of her doctoral work at the University of Denver, Dr. Nunez developed the Children’s Social Competence Scale (CSCS), an early intervention evaluation tool used by schools and child service providers to measure social competency in young children. Connect Us uses the CSCS to assess social aptitude in our participants and measure program outcomes. Dr. Nunez also developed the Social Competence Inclusive Play model (SCIP), designed to help children become socially competent by providing inclusive, collaborative play opportunities in their natural play environments. As Connect Us program director, Dr. Nunez conducts research, develops programs, facilitates groups and training, and supervises facilitators. She offers trainings for parents and educators and lectures internationally.
Ms. Becerra graduated from the University of Denver with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in sociology. For several summers she worked with gifted and talented children as an assistant residential director for the Center for Bright Kids in Westminster, Colo. Ms. Becerra’s upbeat, positive nature and passion for working with children have provided Connect Us with an administrator who can step in and take over groups at a moment’s notice. She is also a talented dancer who shares her skills with children and adults in the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble.
Michael Ray - Facilitator and Life Coach
Mr. Ray earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and is pursuing a master’s in counseling psychology. In addition to serving as a recess coach and group facilitator for Connect Us, he specializes in life skills, social, and academic coaching for children. Mr. Ray spent three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Africa working extensively with schools to upgrade their instruction style and content. He volunteers throughout the Denver Metro area as a youth soccer coach with Skyline Soccer, the National Sports Center for the Disabled teaching in the adaptive snowboarding program, and as a mentor for Minds Matter, a nonprofit serving high-achieving, low-income students.
Mr. France graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in biology. He spent the past year working as a life coach for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a group facilitator for Connect Us after-school and summer camp programs. He plans to pursue a career in pediatrics with an emphasis on autism examination and analysis. Mr. France played rugby for DU and has coached children’s sports since 2008. His combination of discipline, athleticism and coaching skills make him a wonderful role model for Connect Us kids.
Mr. Rivera has been a certified personal trainer for the National Academy of Sports Medicine for more than 10 years. He is a performance enhancement specialist and corrective exercise specialist, having worked with numerous athletes. Mr. Rivera has coached basketball and tee-ball for the city of Aurora and has worked with children for more than 15 years. He is completing a bachelor’s degree in sports operations and plans to pursue a master’s in child development. Mr. Rivera is also distinguished as a professional performer: acting, singing and dancing.
Maylene Visaya, MA - Therapist
Ms. Visaya has facilitated Connect Us groups and trained group facilitators since 2009. She works for Breakthrough Interventions, LLC as a behavioral therapist for children with high-functioning autism and related disorders. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in clinical mental health counseling and psychology. In addition to being a skilled behavioral therapist, Ms. Visaya is an excellent academic and social skills coach for children who struggle in these areas. In addition, she is an accomplished dancer, choreographer, and an All-American National Scholar.
Mara Trager, MA, LPC, PC - Therapist
Ms. Trager is a psychotherapist who specializes in developing children’s relationship skills from toddlers to young adults. She holds a bachelor’s degree in art history and a master’s in counseling psychology. Ms. Trager provides in-home therapy for families and children through Colorado’s Early Intervention Program. In her private practice, she offers individual and family therapy to children and adults. She is also a child yoga instructor and has added a calming dimension to Connect Us groups. In addition to yoga, she loves to incorporate cooking and art into her therapeutic sessions with children.
Danielle Becerra – Administrative Assistant
Ms. Becerra graduated from the University of Colorado Denver with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a minor in general musicianship. Before joining the Connect Us team, she spent her senior year of college working as a student aide and front desk assistant at University of Denver’s Disability Resources and Services. Ms. Becerra enjoys working with kids, especially through visiting schools for recess facilitation programs. She plans to become involved in humanitarian aid and to return to school to study recreational or art therapy. Ms. Becerra is also a talented painter and musician: singing and playing the piano and guitar.